**Written by Doug Powers
Rachel Maddow says that if people felt let down by her story about President Donald Trump’s 2005 tax document it’s more because of the weight of expectation than anything she did.
The MSNBC host found herself in the odd position Wednesday of defending herself from criticism following one of the biggest-ever scoops for her show. Maddow’s show revealed, through reporter David Cay Johnston, two pages of tax return information that showed Trump earned $150 million in 2005 and paid $38 million in income taxes that year. Trump has steadfastly refused to release his tax returns.
“Because I have information about the president doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a scandal,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s damning information. If other people leapt to that conclusion without me indicating that it was, that hype is external to what we did.”
Gosh, why would her viewers have been expecting something helpful to the liberal narrative?
If you missed Maddow’s segment on Trump’s tax forms, it went like this:
But there was a temporary upside to the bait & switch for MSNBC, because the hype paid off:
More than four million people watched Rachel Maddow unveil Donald Trump’s tax figures from 2005.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the audience for the MSNBC was 60 percent larger than it usually is when Maddow revealed two pages from a decade-old federal tax return at 9 p.m. on Tuesday night. She had a 1.2 rating in the key news demo of adults 25-54.
There’s no data though concerning how many of those people were liberals who later angrily turned off the TV and sought comfort in the arms of Keith Olbermann’s podcast.
**Written by Doug Powers
Ted Galen Carpenter
Tensions between Taipei and Beijing have been rising since the electoral landslide by the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan’s January 2016 presidential and legislative elections. DPP president Tsai Ing-wen has endeavored to chart a delicate middle course. She seeks to enlarge her country’s diplomatic links with other nations and assert key Taiwanese strategic and economic interests in such places as the South China Sea. At the same time, Tsai has thus far sought to avoid truly provocative moves that would infuriate Beijing and lead to a crisis.
As part of her diplomatic outreach efforts, Tsai called President-elect Donald Trump in early December to congratulate him on his victory and discuss issues of mutual interest. Trump’s willingness to take that call was a coup on her part. Since the United States switched its official recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, no president or president-elect had engaged in direct contact with a leader of Taiwan. Trump’s action suggested that the incoming administration might be interested in closer and more formal ties to Taipei.
The president-elect increased that speculation shortly thereafter with comments he made during an interview on Fox News. He stated bluntly that the United States did not consider itself bound by the One China policy that had guided his predecessors. That comment, if meant seriously, would signal a major shift in U.S. policy. Although Washington had never embraced Beijing’s assertion that there was only one China and Taiwan was part of China, previous presidents had affirmed that the United States would not challenge that position. Trump’s actions and statements suggested that Washington might now abandon that stance—a change that would have profound implications.
An important feature of an intelligent, effective foreign policy is consistency and reliability. Donald Trump did Taiwan no favors with his blatant inconsistency.
The possible U.S. rejection of the One China policy encouraged staunchly pro-independence elements in Taiwan as well as their supporters in the United States. It seemed more than coincidental that Tsai’s government took steps to boost both its presence and its territorial claims in the South China Sea. Taipei also intensified its efforts to achieve official status in international organizations. An image of greater assertiveness and self-confidence was evident.
Once in office, though, President Trump began to deflate expectation for a dramatically closer bilateral relationship. In a letter to Chinese president Xi Jinping, he assured Xi that Washington would continue to respect the One China policy.
Trump’s sudden, dramatic reversal was rather mystifying. When he took Tsai’s phone call and made his subsequent dismissive comment about the One China policy, it is possible that he did not fully comprehend the ramifications of those actions. It is also possible that he shrewdly engaged in such conduct as a warning to Beijing that there could be adverse consequences regarding Taiwan if Chinese officials were not prepared to make concessions on trade, the South China Sea, North Korea, and other issues. In other words, the apparent brief flirtation with changes in U.S. policy toward Taiwan could have been nothing more than a cynical bargaining ploy.
Whatever the motive, Trump’s head fake made Taiwan’s already delicate position even more difficult. Shortly after the renewed commitment to the One China policy, Beijing began to increase its pressure on Taipei. During the eight years that previous Taiwanese president, Ma Ying-jeou, had pursued an extremely accommodating policy toward the mainland, the Chinese government had eased its campaign to poach the handful of (mostly small and poor) countries that maintained diplomatic ties with Taipei in exchange for generous financial inducements. Now, Beijing apparently intends to revive that campaign with unprecedented intensity, with the intent of completely isolating Taiwan diplomatically. Indeed, Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated bluntly on March 8 that Taiwan has “no diplomatic future.”
Tsai’s government appears to be retreating from any attempt to forge a closer relationship, especially a closer security relationship, with the United States. The latest confirmation was a statement from Taiwan’s defense minister reiterating the decision made in 2016 that Taipei would not be a participant in Washington’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. THAAD is already earmarked to shield Japan and South Korea from ballistic missile attacks. Even though that system is officially aimed at neutralizing North Korea’s missile threat, Beijing has vehemently opposed THAAD, because the radars could be reconfigured to scan deeply into China and possibly degrade that country’s nuclear deterrent.
Taiwan likely concluded that participation in THAAD risked provoking Beijing beyond endurance. Those concerns were warranted. China had issued ominous warnings that it might use military force if Taipei joined that system. Whether Tsai’s government would have made the same cautious decision if it had been confident of strong, reliable U.S. support is uncertain. But with the Trump administration’s return to the One China policy, the risks of seeking inclusion in a system that China adamantly opposed were clearly deemed too great.
An important feature of an intelligent, effective foreign policy is consistency and reliability. Donald Trump did Taiwan no favors with his blatant inconsistency. If he was not serious about altering Washington’s policy toward Taiwan, he should have refrained from raising false hopes in that country and needlessly roiling the U.S. relationship with China. Such actions are the hallmark of an amateurish foreign policy.Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at the National Interest, is the author of 10 books, the contributing editor of 10 books, and the author of more than 650 articles on international affairs.
With the release of today’s “skinny budget” we are likely to hear the usual coverage: “Good-Sounding Program X is being cut by Y million dollars. ‘These cuts will be devastating,’ said someone who gets money through X.’”
Cuts to education programs, which instinctively sound awful because education is generally a good thing, are especially susceptible to this.
But focusing on the immediate recipients of the money, and maybe the good intentions behind the programs, is a terrible way to approach government spending. It ignores that resources are finite, and every government use competes with other uses that may be equally good or better, including what taxpayers may have spent the money on had they been able to keep it.
School choice works, but the danger of federalized choice is huge.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to show someone not spending money on a new car, or investing in a new business, because the dough has gone to an after-school program, or a college Work Study job. So news reports basically ignore opportunity costs.
That problem now off my chest, let’s look at a few of the education items in the Trump administration’s thin proposal:
$250 million for a new private school voucher program, $168 million more for charter schools
School choice works, but the danger of federalized choice is huge. It threatens to homogenize private schools through regulation, and a federal effort could eventually grow large enough to crowd out state programs, killing the competition and innovation that comes through state — “laboratories of democracy” — policymaking. Like almost all federal education meddling, it also would be unconstitutional: the Constitution gives Washington no power to govern or fund education, including school choice.
Eliminate the 21st Century Community Learning Centers
This $1.2 billion program, which supplies funds for before- and after-school programs as well as summer programming, cries out for elimination. Not only is it unconstitutional and in no way something states could not do on their own, but federal evaluations have found that it may have negative effects. As I have discussed before, a 2005 evaluation stated:This study finds that elementary students who were randomly assigned to attend the 21st Century Community Learning Centers after-school program were more likely to feel safe after school, no more likely to have higher academic achievement, no less likely to be in self-care, more likely to engage in some negative behaviors, and experience mixed effects on developmental outcomes relative to students who were not randomly assigned to attend the centers.
Eliminate the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and reduce Work Study
Of course these programs — one provides grants to students, the other funding for student jobs — are unconstitutional, but they are also counterproductive. Like all federal student aid programs, they enable schools to boost prices or redirect other aid, and they incentivize students to think less intensely about whether they should go to college, what they study, and how quickly they finish.
They are not the main culprits — both are quite small relative to other student aid programs — but they are subsidies nonetheless, and starting with small programs is a good way to ease into the bigger cuts we need. It is also difficult to justify giving taxpayer money to students, even in exchange for some sort of work, when the average payoff of graduating from college is around $1 million. At the very least, shouldn’t beneficiaries of aid have to repay taxpayers? The feds offer loans, after all. (Of course, they should be eliminated, too.)
Trim TRIO Programs and GEAR UP
These programs are supposed to help low-income students prepare for, and access, college. Again, there is no constitutional authority for their existence, and states or civil society could handle the job. But the evidence on the programs’ effectiveness is also pretty poor. As I testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, recent official assessments have often used weak research methods, and better ones have found uninspiring effects.
The people who benefit directly from federal programs will no doubt be unhappy with threatened cuts affecting them, and they will likely be featured in news coverage. But for the country, many of these proposed cuts may well be good news.Neal McCluskey is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and maintains Cato’s Public Schooling Battle Map.
President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” is a striking read for a Brit imbued in the UK debate about “austerity”. The intent, according to his Office of Management and Budget, is to turn the President’s speeches, policies and ideas “from words to numbers”. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the effects of Conservative budgets on UK departments, Trump’s would cut spending from some more in a year than those vicious Tories will over a decade.
Trump is making clear to taxpayers and voters that elections and spending decisions involve trade-offs.
The numbers speak for themselves. Department for Agriculture spending down 20.7 percent between 2017 and 2018. Energy down 5.6 percent. Housing and Urban Development down 13.2 percent. Labor down 20.7 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency down 31.4 percent. And it’s not just arbitrary totals for departments to hit. The document identifies a raft of whole programs to be jettisoned (most long identified by libertarian and conservative groups as worthy of the chopping block). This is more comprehensive than a UK government comprehensive spending review. Everything from the Economic Development Administration right through to the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program are listed for abolition, with more to follow as the full budget is developed.
In many ways this is refreshingly honest. Trump ran a campaign on boosting military and homeland security spending. When the U.S. already spends more on defence than the next 8 national combined, it’s unclear to me why this is necessary. But given that choice, he has decided to fully offset the $59.5 billion expansion across 3 agencies (including a 10 percent defence increase) with $64.4 billion in cuts across 17. President George W. Bush had no qualms about racking up extra military spending by borrowing. Trump is making clear to taxpayers and voters that elections and spending decisions involve trade-offs.
Of course, that is not to say that Trump will prove to be a fiscal conservative overall. This budget excludes his plans for infrastructure and the “mandatory” expenditures of Social Security and Medicaid — which are completely unsustainable given long-term demographics. It also says nothing on tax, and we know Trump wants significant tax cuts. Yet showing that spending pledges need to be funded or offset now will at least be the starting point when other new policies are announced.
The key thing though is that Trump is clearly prioritizing the traditional functions of the federal government (not least security) and hacking back on most areas where government has grown through the 20th century. Time after time, the budget highlights the wastefulness of federal government programs and talks about how state and local governments are better placed to make decisions themselves. This theme of fiscal federalism runs through much of the document, with schemes such as the Community Development Block Grant, which doles out money to cities to build things such as car parks, a good example of where Trump wants to slash federal aid.
Of course, all these programs will have Republican congressional cheerleaders. What the budget will ultimately look like when it gets through Congress is anyone’s guess. What’s clear though is that this budget, taken alongside Trump’s musings and executive orders on regulation, freezing federal hiring and downsizing government, shows that he is serious about scaling back the scope of the federal government. His advisor Steve Bannon said he wanted to deconstruct the administrative state. This budget begins to do just that.Ryan Bourne works at the Cato Institute, where he is the R. Evan Scharf chair in the Public Understanding of Economics.
Vanessa Brown Calder
President Donald Trump is expected to release some initial budget proposals today, and spending cuts are on the agenda. One agency targeted for cuts is the bloated Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is the object of a 13 percent reduction.
That’s good news because some of the department’s chief activities—public housing, rental vouchers and community development—have suffered from failure and waste for decades. Housing activists are already decrying the cuts, but when it comes to affordable housing, local governments can make progress without all the regulations and subsidies from Washington.
Public housing, for example, is a staple of the HUD portfolio, but it’s been plagued by failure as far back as the early 1970s, when public housing projects became “a notorious symbol of failed public policy and architectural hubris.” Its prominence in the HUD portfolio has been reduced in years since, and many of the large housing projects have already been phased out or literally razed through the federal HOPE VI program and Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
Ultimately, housing and housing affordability are state responsibilities, not federal responsibilities.
Unfortunately, what’s left of traditional public housing follows largely the same pattern as its predecessor, and sustains the program’s unsavory reputation. For example, even the most ardent public housing advocate agrees that federal public housing suffers from dilapidation and disrepair, and a 2015 study conducted by the Manhattan Institute concluded that New York City’s public housing experienced twice the assaults and rapes, and triple the murders expected given its size.
Can public housing be redeemed? It seems unlikely now, given HUD has been attempting to do that for around 40 years. Unfortunately, the core problem is the program’s very design: depositing concentrated pockets of poverty in cities and then letting them decay there. Despite advocates’ protests, maintaining 2017 levels of funding will not change the fundamentals.
Compared with public housing, rental vouchers enjoy an improved reputation. This is partly because they provide beneficiaries with more choice and the ability to live in privately owned and operated housing. Still, rental vouchers share many of their sister program’s weaknesses. Like public housing, rental vouchers contain no work requirements or time limits. As a consequence, only 25.7 percent of voucher-receiving household heads, or a little more than half of capable (non-elderly, non-disabled) household heads, report working.
Although public housing and vouchers set a low bar, if there was ever an example of government waste and abuse, it is surely embodied by the Community Development Block Grants program. The program is certainly flexible; in previous years, it provided money for sports complexes, wine bars and art museums, all in the name of fighting poverty and encouraging urban renewal. Pre-Obama, the Bush administration flatly labeled CDBG as “ineffective,” based on the program’s lack of a clear purpose, missing evaluation metrics, deficient oversight and because funds weren’t targeted to the poor. To this day, these problems persist. Funds are diluted across a wide variety of projects and spent haphazardly without clear outcome metrics. That’s a recipe for federal waste, not success.
Worse yet, research on federal grants indicates federal dollars crowd out state and local dollars. State and local governments respond to federal grant money by rearranging budget priorities to offset the benefits of grants altogether. Add that to the 13-30 percent of funds that are absorbed as CDBG money changes hands, and you have a program that looks like more of a cost to taxpayers than a benefit.
While public housing, housing vouchers, and CDBG have unique problems, there is one feature that remains consistent: Federal dollars are a distraction from local policy dysfunction. That is, current incentives provide no reason for states and cities to confront a housing crisis of their own making. For example, most local government officials don’t realize or care that zoning and land use regulations drive housing prices sky high, especially in locations that are hogtied by regulation like New York City. One study estimated that zoning regulation accounted for a full 50 percent of the cost of an apartment in Manhattan, and 53 percent of the cost of a home in San Francisco.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the federal government does a poor job of administering housing programs. Ultimately, housing and housing affordability are state responsibilities, not federal responsibilities. Given HUD’s record distorting state and local policy, there is an unconvincing rationale for its large and expanding role in local policy. Rather than worry about negligible cuts to HUD, smart taxpayers should ask whether housing policy would be better if HUD cuts went further.Vanessa Brown Calder is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, where she focuses on social welfare, housing, and urban policy.